Success Versus Gravy

I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan. Last night I was rewatching his film Magnolia and ended up reading some quotes on Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s IMDB page. It really helped to codify some feelings about my own artwork.

“Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy. The success part of it is all gravy.” -PSH

You have to be happy with your output and the quality of that work. It’s dangerous to rely on external factors for validation. External factors are totally out of your control. Trying to measure success based on listenership, follows, and likes is a rabbit-hole anyhow. How much is enough? 1000 fans? 10,000 fans? A million? Airplay on 5 radio stations? 500? 5000?

I was having drinks with a musician in one of the world’s largest bands at the time, and she was actually embarrassed about their success. She felt their music was less genuine because it was so popular and longed for the time she could record her own music that was “less-accessible”. It was an invaluable lesson to me. Happiness and satisfaction is not tied to popularity. In her case, they seemed to be inversely related.

A long time ago, a prominent A&R figure (and now friend) told me that he loved my work but that it was impossible to mass-market. My songs don’t fit into a neatly packaged genre. That’s just the way I write, and although it may have bothered me at the time, I can appreciate that now.

I’ve said it before that success to me is finishing a final mix, turning off the lights, and listening to the new song in a nice pair of headphones. The sales, the press reviews, and the airplay is- just as Phillip Hoffman says- gravy.

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